In the Gastein valley, Austria, radon-rich thermal water and air have been used for decades for the treatment of various diseases. To explore the exposure pathway of radon progeny adsorbed to the skin, progeny activities on the skin of patients exposed to thermal water (in a bathtub) and hot vapour (in a vapour chamber) were measured by alpha spectrometry. Average total alpha activities on the patientsxxx skin varied from 1.2 to 4.1 Bq/cm(2) in the bathtub, and from 1.1 to 2.6 Bq/cm(2) in the vapour bath. Water pH-value and ion concentration did affect radon progeny adsorption on the skin, whereas skin greasiness and blood circulation did not. Measurements of the penetration of deposited radon progeny into the skin revealed a roughly exponential activity distribution in the upper layers of the skin. Based on the radon progeny surface activity concentrations and their depth distributions, equivalent doses to different layers of the skin, in particular to the Langerhans cells located in the epidermis, ranged from 0.12 mSv in the thermal bath to 0.33 mSv in the vapour bath, exceeding equivalent doses to the inner organs (kidneys) by inhaled radon and progeny by about a factor 3, except for the lung, which receives the highest doses via inhalation. These results suggest that radon progeny attachment on skin surfaces may play a major role in the dosimetry for both thermal water and hot vapour treatment schemes.
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